Diplomatic activity intensifies in the Middle East


The leader of Hamas’s political arm, Ismail Haniyeh, travelled from Qatar to Egypt yesterday (Wednesday) for talks on a potential new humanitarian pause in Gaza. Israel is reportedly offering to pause hostilities for at least a week in exchange for the release of over 30 hostages, according to Axios.

This comes after Israeli President Isaac Herzog told a gathering of foreign diplomats that his country was “ready for another humanitarian pause and additional humanitarian aid in order to enable the release of hostages”. 

It’s just some of the dialogue happening this week: 

  • 🇺🇸 US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has met his Israeli counterpart, urging Israel to shift to “lower intensity and more surgical operations”
  • 🇺🇸-🇮🇱-🇶🇦 CIA Director Bill Burns has met his Israeli counterpart and the Qatari prime minister in Warsaw to discuss the terms of any new pause 
  • 🇬🇧 UK Foreign Minister David Cameron is wrapping talks with his Jordanian counterpart on boosting aid to Gaza, before heading to Egypt
  • 🇫🇷 French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna has travelled to Israelthe West Bank and Lebanon,calling for an “immediate truce” and urging calm along Lebanon’s southern border with Israel, and
  • 🇺🇳 The UN Security Council is due to vote on its next resolution this morning (Thursday) after a series of delays to try to accommodate US objections. If it passes, the text will call for a pause to get aid in.

But notwithstanding this spike in ministerial activity, the reported death toll in Gaza now reaching 20,000, and the prospect of another potential pause, any longer-term end to hostilities still looks far off.

Hamas is reportedly refusing to resume negotiations until Israel hits pause, and saying it’ll only release more hostages as part of a permanent ceasefire.

For his part, Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to vow that Israel won’t stop until it achieves its objectives: “the elimination of Hamas, the release of our hostages, and the removal of the threat from Gaza.” His foreign minister says this is the case, ​​”with or without international support”.

INTRIGUE’S TAKE

So if the fundamentals don’t seem to be shifting, what’s all this diplomatic activity?

  • It’s partly to stop things getting worse
  • It’s partly to shape others’ calculations, expectations and actions
  • It’s partly to keep lines open in case this shaping produces results
  • It’s partly to pressure Israel into changing its tactics if not its strategy
  • And it’s partly about signalling to domestic constituencies

Also worth noting:

  • On the prospect of an Israel-Hamas hostage deal, US President Joe Biden told reporters yesterday, “there’s no expectation at this point”.
  • The World Food Program announced the first direct aid convoy of 46 trucks from Jordan had reached Gaza yesterday via Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing.
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